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Book Review

Picturing Jesus

Many Christians have their doctrine of God right and their Christology all in line but fail to actually experience the Lord and his love in any meaningful way. Here is a book that will point them in a helpful direction. It is Seeing Is Believing: Experience Jesus Through Imaginative Prayer by Gregory A. Boyd (Baker Books, 2004. ISBN: 978-0801065026).  

Boyd points out that it is only in modern Western society that the power of the imagination has been devalued to the point of being seen as useless as a factor in spiritual discipline. We associate it with ‘make-believe’ and fantasy, whereas the church down the centuries has set great store by the imagination as a valuable tool for drawing closer to the Lord. There is also ample scriptural warrant for its use in this way, and the author outlines both aspects.

Then he gives some practical pointers to help us open up this neglected part of our being. It essentially means using our imagination to come into Christ’s presence and experiencing him with all five senses. The author is solidly biblical throughout and, to illustrate the principles he advocates, draws on cases from Christians of bygone generations, his own experience, and the testimonies of people who have attended his Resting In Christ seminars.

‘Resting’ is in fact a key element of this approach, in contrast to ‘try harder’. Only when we are at rest with who we are in Christ, and what he declares us to be, can we begin to draw close to him without doubts or fears. Some will first need healing for some traumatic memories from their past before they can enjoy this experience, and Boyd provides some sensible guidelines for that. He also has a helpful section where he deals convincingly with the most common objections to the whole approach, especially the charge that it verges on ‘New Age’ practice.

I can say that, for myself, he has opened up a whole new dimension of possible spiritual development, which I am beginning to explore with interest and anticipation. You, too, could have much to gain from this book.

[I read the book in Logos Bible Software format, but it is also available in hard copy and Kindle format.]


It’s not so much what we intellectually believe is true that impacts us; it’s what we experience as real.  (p12)

Unlike most people throughout history, including people in biblical times and culture, we tend to view the imagination not as a vehicle to access reality but as a way to flee from reality. Tragically, we view imagination primarily as a means to create fantasy. We have been taught to distrust the imagination in spiritual matters—a distrust that has catastrophic consequences for our spiritual growth.  (p15)

Trying hard to fulfill an ought cannot in and of itself produce the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot simply will ourselves to be genuinely loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.  (p23)

All genuine spiritual growth comes from the Holy Spirit making our true identity real to us and overcoming the self-identity we inherited from the pattern of the world.  (p28)

If we truly are righteous in Christ Jesus, why should Paul need to remind us to live righteous lives? If we are new creations and have a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17), why do we still struggle with sin? If I am filled with God’s Spirit, the Spirit of love, joy, and peace, why do I yet struggle with a lack of love, joy, and peace? The puzzle is not to be resolved by distinguishing between the way God sees us and the way we actually are but by distinguishing between the way we actually are and the way we experience ourselves.  (p30)

If the flesh that Paul is speaking of in Galatians is not a “sinful nature,” what is it? I submit that it is a deceptive state of being. The flesh is not a nature that is essential to someone’s identity. It is rather a deceptive way of seeing and experiencing oneself and one’s world and thus a deceptive way of living in the world.  (p35)

Secrecy is foreign to our created natures. As such, it constitutes a direct contradiction to all that is good, pure, and healthy in life. It is the essence of evil… One of the primary ways the Holy Spirit confronts the flesh and thereby brings wholeness to our lives is by moving us into an open and honest relationship with God, ourselves, and others.  (p49)

The foundation of orthodox Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ is, as the Chalcedonian Creed puts it, “fully God and fully man.” It is not an exaggeration to say that everything that is unique about Christianity is related to this central truth.  (p54)

We are only as healthy as our picture of God is accurate.  (p56)

Where the Holy Spirit is working, what is concealed will be revealed, and things will look as bad, or as good, as they really are. How things appear will not be of concern, so how things actually are can be openly addressed. Where the Holy Spirit is moving, sick people will be free to be unhealthy and thus will be free to be healed.  (p63)

We have come to identify imagination as something that takes us away from truth rather than something that can be useful, and indeed necessary, to enable us to experience truth.  (p72)

Satan’s deception is anchored in powerful, imaginative misrepresentations of reality, and until these lies are confronted with truth in ways that are at least as vivid and powerful as the misrepresentations, the lies will continue to dominate our lives.  (p79)

The insight that imagination is central to our relationship with God and to our transformation is hardly new. Indeed, I will now argue that it is rooted in Scripture and show that it has been present throughout church history.  (p81)

The minds of unbelievers are hardened, and thus a veil lies over them that keeps them from seeing (in their minds) the glory of God (2 Cor 3:14-16). When we turn to Christ, however, the veil is removed so we can see (in our minds) the glory of God. It is this imaginative seeing that transforms us “from one degree of glory to another” (v18).  (p87)

While there have always been those such as John Calvin (sixteenth century) who have mistrusted or rejected altogether the legitimacy of mentally picturing God or Jesus in prayer or worship, there is a long-standing tradition, which is called the “cataphatic” tradition, that has insisted on its appropriateness and spiritual value.  (p90)

How often do we find our minds wandering during prayer? The reason, St. Francis de Sales suggested, is that our minds, which think by concretely re-presenting reality, cannot focus well on abstractions. They will always gravitate to more concrete things. The way to focus our minds in prayer, therefore, is to picture mentally the one to whom we pray and the matter about which we pray.  (p92)

A.W. Tozer…spoke of the “supreme value of a sanctified imagination.”  (p94)

The basic conviction behind cataphatic spirituality is that everything we do in our spiritual lives will likely be enhanced if it is done with vivid mental images.  (p98)

We grow healthy as we rest, in the midst of all our sickness and wounds, in the unconditional love and acceptance of Christ.  (p105)

Only when we gain a restored sense of self can we forgive in a real and healthy way. Only then can we truly let go of the message of a memory that damaged us, which is what forgiveness is all about. Only after we have been empowered in relation to the person who stole from us a piece of ourselves can we truly forgive them.  (p123)

The secular view of the world and the human mind as a closed system, existing autonomous from God, is a fundamental aspect of the pattern of this world against which believers must continuously fight.  (p130)

What we in our age of intellectualized Christianity so desperately need to see and experience is that our imagination and God’s Spirit can work together to bring us into a concrete and dynamic relationship with the Lord.  (p131)

Some have publicly charged any Christians who endorse the practice of envisioning Jesus in prayer as intentionally or unintentionally endorsing the New Age movement… While this paranoia in some conservative Christian circles is to some extent understandable given the pervasive influence of the New Age movement, it is, I believe, completely misguided and very counterproductive.  (p131)

Much of the present spiritual impoverishment of Western Christianity has come about because the Christian church, under the influence of the Enlightenment worldview, largely lost its spiritual imagination.  (p134)

Yes, we must allow Scripture to inform us so that we form a true notion of God. Yet what Packer seems to be calling for with his carte blanche dismissal of all mental imaging is to have no concrete notion of God at all! What possible notion of God as a mighty rock or a kind shepherd—or as the incarnate Son of God—can we have if we are never to form any mental images of God?  (p137)

How are we who live two thousand years after Christ supposed to go to the Father through Jesus if we are forbidden to concretely imagine Jesus? How are we to behold the glory of the Lord radiating from the face of Jesus? How are we to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2 niv) unless we are allowed to see, as in a reflection (kataptrizo), this real, embodied Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18)?  (p138)

The church is known for a good many things, but loving people unconditionally isn’t usually one of them!  (p147)

Beliefs alone are rarely transformative. Only what is experienced as real can transform a person.  (p169)

When given to people whose struggle is deeper than behavior, the “try harder” solution only serves to indict them for experiencing the problems they have.  (p178)

There is certainly a place for hard effort in the Christian life, but it is not at the foundation of spiritual growth. It is, rather, an expression of spiritual growth. The foundation is resting as you are in who you are in Christ and in who Christ is to you.  (p195)

The Bible assumes the imagination can be a point of contact, perhaps the central point of contact, between God and his people. God inspires dreams and visions; he gives words of knowledge, wisdom, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, and he leads and directs his people by inspiring the content of their mind. This has also been the basic assumption of the church throughout history.  (p196)

Look at reviews I have done on other books by Greg Boyd:

Buy hard copy

Buy for Kindle

Buy for Logos

https://www.log os.com/product/ 39684/select-works-of-gregory-a-boyd#003

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